Initially the brainchild of American car importer Max Hoffman, the BMW 507 Coupé debut at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel New York in the summer of 1955. Production of the car began in November 1956, with a limited production quantity of 252. Despite commercial limitations which brought BMW to the edge of bankruptcy, the 507 remains a landmark model for the German manufacturer.
The History of the BMW 570
In 1954, Max Hoffman persuaded BMW to come up with a roadster rendition of the BMW 501 and BMW 502 saloons so as to fill the gap between the high-end German Mercedes-Benz 300SL and the cheap relatively under-powered British Triumph and MC sports cars.
BMW engineer Fritz Fiedler, designer of the famous BMW 328, was engaged to design the rolling chassis, using existing car modules wherever possible. For the design of the body, Veritas-BMW performance-car specialist Ernst Loof worked on the project but his involvement was short-lived, with his designs rejected by Hoffman who found them unappealing.
At Hoffman’s persuasion, BMW brought in industrial designer Albrecht von Goertz to design both the BMW 503 and the 507. Goertz’s humble beginnings saw him restyling and modifying Ford Model A and B cars, building a two-door coupé “Paragon” on a Mercury chassis, in a rented garage and showroom in 1938. The Paragon exhibited at the 1939 World Fair Exhibition in New York to considerable acclaim.
It was not until 1953 when Goertz founded his own design consultancy and met Hoffman. Encouraged by Hoffman, Goertz contacted BMW and submitted sketches that surpassed Loof’s in comparison. As a result, Goertz was engaged to style both the 503 and 507.
Top in its Class
The 34 Series I BMW 507, built in 1956 and early 1957, featured 110-litre competition-grade welded aluminium fuel tanks behind the rear seats. Unfortunately, the design limited both boot and passenger space, and left the cabin area reeking of petrol when the hood was erected or the hardtop fitted. Thus, Series II and subsequent iterations of the 507 were fitted with 66-litre fuel tanks beneath the boot, intelligently shaped around a space to accommodate a spare type.
Based on a shortened 503 chassis frame from wheelbased length 2,835mm to 2,480mm, the 507’s stood at an overall length of 4,835mm, and overall height of 1,257mm. The outstandingly shapely and fluid bodywork is virtually handcrafted of aluminium sheet panels, making each 507 a unique masterpiece. Incidentally, 11 of them were sold fitted with optional hand-fabricated removable hardtops, crafted to fit each unique Coupé.
The power unit was an aluminium-alloy pushrod-operated overhead-valve V8 unit, displacing 3,168cc. It breathed through two Zenith 32NDIX two-barrel carburettors, and featured a chain-driven oil pump, high-lift cams, a different spark advance curve compared to the associated saloon models, polished combustion chambers, and a compression ratio of 7.8:1. Power output was claimed to be 150 metric horsepower (110kW) DIN at 5,000rpm. The power unit was mated to a close-ratio four-speed manual transmission. A contemporary road test of the vehicle was done by Swiss magazine Motor Revue, which cited 0-62mph acceleration in 11.1 seconds, hitting a then mind-blowing top speed of 122mph in the 1950s.
The BMW 507 debut with much finesse at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in the summer of 1955, and was set to sell for some US $5,000, which Hoffman believed supported a production run of 5,000 units a year. However, production costs skyrocketed with an inflating German market price, eventually pushing up the US market price to US $9,000 initially, and then US $10,500.
Despite its inception as the model to revitalise BMW’s sporting image and to push brand perception and sales volume forward, the 507 fell short in comparison with Mercedes-Benz’s rival car, a six-cylinder 300 SL, making up 10% or less of the 300 SL’s sales volume. This nearly drove BMW to bankruptcy, only finding recovery in investments from Herbert Quandt and the launch of newer, cheaper models to target beyond the sports car market.
Yet, the 507 remains an icon. It was far better looking, prettier, and faster than most cars in its league. Celebrity owners of the Coupé and alternatively, Spyder version, include Elvis Presley (who possessed two), Hollywood movie director John Derek, and motorcycling star Georg ‘Schorsch’ Meier.
John Surtees’ BMW 507
Perhaps most coveted by collectors and car aficionados of today is John Surtees’ BMW 507. Surtees is the only man ever to win World Championship titles on both two and four wheels. Despite a near-death accident in 1965 while practising in a Lola T70 sports racing car at Mosport Circuit in Ontario, Canda which left him with one side of his body four inches shorter than the other, Surtees debut with Ferrari’s new F1 car at the 1966 BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone where he finished second.
Surtees was a Commander of the Order of the British Empire who has lived through and won numerous World Championships. In the garage of his stunning Kentish country house remains a conserved, preserved, and maintained part-present from Count Domenico Agusta for his win at the 1956 500cc Motor-Cycle World Championship – his BMW 507 Coupé.
Accompanied by a documentation file that includes a confirmatory copy letter dated February 10, 1959, and a draft text penned by Surtees himself, detailing the history of his beloved BMW.
The exact BMW 507 Coupé, of immaculate condition, will be up for auction at The Goodwood Festival of Speed Sale on 13 July 2018, 14:00 BST, with a starting price of £ 2,000,000 – 2,500,000. More information available on Bonhams.